Dr Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, has inaugurated a new FAO Crisis Management Centre (CMC) to fight Avian Influenza outbreaks and other major animal health or food health-related emergencies.
"The CMC represents a significant leap forward in FAO's ability to help Member Nations prevent and cope with disease outbreaks," Dr Diouf said. Set up in collaboration with the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health and located at FAO's Rome headquarters, the Centre brings rapid-response capacity to transboundary animal and plant diseases, and can also react quickly to emergencies involving plant pests or food safety.
Supported by advanced communications technology, the Centre operates around the clock, seven days a week with a staff of up to 15 specialists and veterinarians. Disease information is monitored and updated from around the globe continuously. When a suspected outbreak is reported, CMC can dispatch its experts to any hot-spot in the world in under 48 hours.
"Three years into the Avian Influenza crisis, FAO and the international community can draw some satisfaction, and some relief, in the progress made to contain a most deadly menace to the health of animals and humans across the globe," Dr Diouf said.
Although the disease remains a potent threat in Indonesia and Africa, and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus are still vulnerable, elsewhere in the world the situation has improved, he noted.
"But despite the encouraging and very real progress made, it does not mean we can lower our guard," Dr Diouf warned.
"Only when H5N1 has been totally eradicated will the Sword of Damocles, or more pessimistically the time-bomb, of a human pandemic be removed," Dr Diouf added.
"One of the lessons FAO has learned in three years of leading the international fight against Avian Influenza is that speed is of the essence," Dr Diouf declared. "Alert must be lightning- quick. Reaction must be immediate in combating a disease which can move, across borders and continents, terrifyingly fast."
The CMC is headed by Dr Karin Schwabenbauer, former Chief Veterinary Officer of the German Federal Republic. Her Deputy, Dr Gary L. Brickler, is seconded from USDA Veterinary Services.
Responses to animal health emergencies will be under the responsibility of FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Joseph Domenech. Operational support to the CMC will be provided by FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.
The United States has provided 5.1 million dollars and three veterinarians for the Centre. Other contributors include the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Saudi Arabia, China, Greece and Jordan.